Making change happen
"Here comes Edward Bear now, down the stairs behind Christopher Robin. Bump! Bump! Bump! on the back of his head. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming down stairs. He is sure that there must be a better way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment to think of it." – A.A.Milne
How many times have you thought something needs to be done, but never managed to make it happen or come up against a brick wall of resistance?
Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with change, both from the perspective of an organisation and on the individual level. It's a dull term and guaranteed to turn off even those excited by management fads. Yet it does serve as a useful term for the process of making things happen. There are three important things to remember – the systematic process and the different perspectives of both organisations and individuals.
"The amount of change that the leadership of an organisation desires must be balanced with the amount the organisation is capable of handling." "Projects combine human, organisational and technical factors. They cannot be solved purely by technologies and this is the reason why 90% of ICT investments do not meet their performance goals."
Why change fails
Change is difficult to make happen whether dealing with an IT project or not. There are eight key reasons.
- Staff and clients may nod through a generally good idea (allowing too much complacency)
- There isn't sufficient momentum behind the project - a few people are keen but people are generally disinterested and trying to cope with other things (failing to create a coalition – people/trust/goal)
- There isn't a clear vision or goal for the change/project (underestimating the power of vision)
- People don't understand or see the priority and importance of the vision or goal (undercommunicating the vision)
- Other things (time, other projects, other staff, bloody mindedness) get in the way (permitting obstacles to block the new vision)
- The benefits are a long way off and people are losing patience (failing to create short term wins)
- You think you've done it and then it doesn't quite work in the end (declaring victory too soon)
- It all goes back to the way it was before because management haven't supported the changes in infrastructure and procedure and resources to make the change project effective in the long term
So what are the key steps to making successful change happen?
The eight steps to successful change
There are eight major steps to successful change. You need to follow all eight to make it happen!
Establishing a sense of urgency Complacency is the biggest enemy. The absence of crisis, the capacity for denial (we don't "really" need to do this) and the problems of individuals who are happy with the status quo rather than seeing a benefit to the organisation. Change needs to be driven, and it needs to be presented as urgent. "We might do this soon" is a real killer.
Creating the guiding coalition (people/trust/goal) Change requires leadership (change management is better termed change leadership as change is inherently difficult to manage). It requires expertise (do staff and clients trust the people involved with leading the change – do they understand the impacts/issues etc.). It requires credibility. The people involved in leading change need to either have a senior and respected position or have the explicit backing of senior management. The coalition must involve the right people (including some of those who are the "nay sayers", the people must directly involved and senior management). It involves creating trust (explaining advantages and disadvantages, being realistic about what might happen) and developing a common goal. It's no good an IT project benefiting the IT manager – what will it do for me, for my friends, my colleagues, the organisation. Don’t assume your colleagues are altruistic when it comes to supporting change.
Developing a vision and a strategy What are we doing, why are we doing it and how are we doing it?Vision is often confused. It's easy to tell someone something but difficult to be sure they've understood what you think they’ve understood (and even less so that they're really 100% behind you). The vision must be imaginable (can they see what it does for them?), desirable (do they really want this to happen?), feasible (is it likely to happen or a pipe dream?), focused (not another woolly IT project doomed to fail?), flexible (hey, why start a 12 month IT project when our major grant funder is withdrawing next year? Will we still be here?) and most importantly of all communicable (easy to say, easy to explain and doesn't get confused or manipulated when it's passed on.)
Communicating the change vision An absolute fundamental. Failure to communicate the vision effectively undermines most change projects. Vision shouldn't require a two hour Powerpoint presentation – it should be clear, snappy and capable of being understood by everyone. Keep it simple, use analogy ("our new website will mean clients with internet access can get hold of our advice 24 hours a day – it's like being open all night but we still get to sleep!"), use repitition (we forget most of what we hear, keep reinforcing the message), lead by example, communicate both ways (listen as well as tell), explain the inconsistencies (better for you to point out the drawbacks, impacts and solutions than the person who doesn't want the project to happen) and use different forums. One-on-ones, seminars, team meetings and informal conversations around the kettle/kitchen prove highly effective when used together.
Empowering broad based action What's going to stop this happening? Well, attitudes are one but organisational structure is a bigger problem. Discouraging bosses and lack of necessary skills are another. For change to be successful, management needs to be supportive (in terms of time, resources and training for staff) and it may require some flexibility in operational processes (no point asking people to attend training every Thursday afternoon if they’re always scheduled to work offsite with clients that day). It's about communicating a sensible vision, making organisational structures and processes compatible with that vision, providing the training needed, making sure the personnel and information systems fit the proposed change and confronted the people who undermine that change.
Generating short term wins As any football fan will tell you, promising success in a few years time doesn't really do it for you. Why should you have the hassle and discomfort for something that might only benefit someone else when you've gone? Short-term wins are fundamental to success and another common stumbling block which derails otherwise successful projects. If you're building a website, show the team an early (scaled-down) version and the difference it makes. For a database, show them how easy it is to use the new system and let them get their hands on some of the functionality at an early stage. For a new network upgrade, show them how effective the new desktops are early in the roll out. Short-term wins help build evidence for overall change, provide rewards and incentives to keep going, keep the more awkward people on board, help fine tune the project and build overall momentum.
Consolidating gains and producing more change Don't rest on your laurels. Build on change and help the organisation innovate more. Consolidation requires support from bottom-up as well as top-down. Sell the advantages, get those "nay sayers" involved (the people who said it would never work and are now the biggest champions and advocates) and keep supporting the changes in attitude and structure.
Anchoring new approaches in the culture Above all, make sure all the hard work doesn't fail. Anchoring change depends on results (the change needs to have been successful), requires lots of communication and may involve moving or losing staff. Change should always be in the best interests of any organisation and the clients but for some staff that might not be enough. Keep senior management support on board and keep the change champions and advocates working hard to keep the organisational process and structure supporting the new system.
Change and IT projects
But enough of the theory. A few key points to thing about around change and IT projects when planning your next change effort
- Forget the technology… what are you DOING??? – a database is about information management and processes so worry about the people and their needs first
- What your organisation does…, how it does it…, why it does it - is this clear?
- What difference will the project make? – be explicit
- Who will it benefit? – be explicit and find out why person A, B and C should get involved. What's in it for them?
- Where’s the plan? – plan the work and work the plan!
- Now you can think about software…
- Making change work for you – some things to think about
What are you doing and why? INSPIRE!
- Get people involved (especially the naysayers)
- Make it about the processes
- Make it about the people they help
- Manage expectations
- Manage migration between systems (explain exactly how this will impact and help support the changes)
- Be clear about who is the Project Sponsor/Champion/Manager/Team
- Speak their language – get in a critical friend if necessary
And remember the seven simple rules for projects:
- Don't over-promise.
- If in doubt keep it simple.
- Make sure all key parties have agreed on the project definition (which depends on all parties contributing to and understanding the project definition)
- Make sure management and trustees are committed to the project. The project management role is best located within the charity not with consultants and suppliers.
- Make sure the project is sustainable.
- Cover potential risks and liabilities.
- Finishing projects well is an art is its own right
Change management and leadership is hard but rewarding. It won't win you any popularity contests but did you really take the job to be popular? Good luck!
Resources: A questionnaire to help you build a case for change in your organisation
- Who do you want to be involved in your project and why?
- What’s in it for them?
- What’s in it for the organisation?
- What’s in it for their clients?
- What’s their relationship to the impact and the organisation?
The conversation for engagement:
- What is the current position, what is the likely future?
- What’s the future possibility
- What’s the case for action
Advice and support
- Funding and finance
- Coping with cuts
- Addressing needs
- Managing change
- Planning for the future
- Involving people
- Public Service Delivery
- Governance and leadership
- Compact Advocacy programme
- Campaigning and influencing policy
- Collaborative working
- ICT (information and communication technology)
- Climate change
- People, HR and employment